Tips to Treat Your Arthritis Pain

Do your joints hate cold weather? Are you blaming your age for lower back, hip, and knee pain? These are typical signs of arthritis but it’s not the painful life sentence you think it is.

Every year, the Centers for Disease Control reports roughly 54.4 million North Americans are diagnosed with some form of arthritis and it’s the leading cause of ongoing disability. In light of those numbers, a plethora of research has been conducted on effective treatment for arthritis, especially non-invasive options. So, can you completely get rid of arthritis symptoms without surgery? Established back at the turn of the century and still being reinforced to this day, the answer is a resounding yes!


Remind me, what is arthritis exactly?

The term ‘arthritis’ comes from the Latin ‘arthr-‘ meaning joint and ‘-itis’ meaning inflammation. While inflammation is a great mechanism your body uses to heal itself, chronic inflammation means you’re stuck before reaching that healed stage. There are a lot of reasons why your joints might be stuck in a chronic inflammation cycle and the Arthritis Foundation lists over 100 different types of arthritis.


What are a few common causes of lower back, hip, and knee arthritis?

You’re not just getting old! First, let’s differentiate a cause from a perpetuator. Frequently, an old injury is what causes the cascade of events leading to arthritis. However, it’s often poor movement mechanics or even a lack of movement from pain avoidance that perpetuates the arthritis cycle. You can’t go back and erase that old injury, but you can choose to start moving better. 

Other causes of arthritis, like immune system dysfunction, abnormal metabolism, and genetic factors can be difficult to circumvent. On the other hand, you have the ability to control the strength and coordination with which you move. 


No problem, I’ll just get my joint replaced.

Surgery is not a quick fix or something to be taken lightly. On top of being extremely costly, there are risks with general anesthesia, risks of infection and blood clots, and the risk that you’ll need another revision surgery somewhere down the line. Also, you’re going to need a long course of physical therapy after surgery anyway, so why not try physical therapy first? 

If surgery ends up being necessary, a lot of surgeons are also starting to see faster and better recovery among people who do ‘prehab’ aka physical therapy to prep for surgery. Creating a larger reserve of strength and stamina before surgery, especially in the joints above and below, means you can ‘hit the ground running’ with your recovery so to speak, instead of starting from ground zero.  


What can I do?

Here are 6 tips worth trying to help reduce your arthritis pain:

1. Motion is lotion, not corrosion. Because poor movement mechanics is often what exacerbates people’s arthritis, they can end up fearing movement. However, it’s better to keep moving through the pain you can tolerate than to avoid every painful movement. Not moving will make you stiffen up like a tin man while movement will keep your joints lubricated and your muscles strong so they can support your joints. 

2. Try gravity-free exercise. Your muscles start to atrophy after 2 weeks or sooner of inactivity. Exercising with arthritis maintains the strength and function of your muscles but can also be painful. The best place to exercise if you have arthritis is in a pool to remove the compressive force of gravity from your joints. If you don’t have access to a pool or a space station, try doing exercises where your limb moves horizontally across gravity instead of against gravity. Ask your therapist for specific exercise ideas. 

3. Life is too short for uncomfortable shoes. Every time your foot hits the ground when you walk, it sends forces up your legs and spine that if not well distributed, can contribute to your arthritis pain. To minimize those forces, make sure you have well-cushioned shoes that support your foot in a neutral position. Look at the wear on the treads of your shoes to determine when they need replacing. A good rule of thumb is at least once a year. 

4. Less weight, less pain. You may notice a theme developing that managing arthritis is all about managing the forces that pass through your joints. In another attempt to reduce excess forces, you can reduce the amount of weight you’re carrying. This could mean roller bags instead of shoulder bags and losing excess body weight. Ask your therapist for a referral to a Registered Dietitian. Not only can they help with weight loss, but there are certain foods like sugary snacks that increase inflammation, while others like cherries reduce inflammation.

5. Heat and ice. Many people find the heat of a warm bath, hot pack, or steam room eases arthritis pain. Others though might find relief with cold packs. It’s also possible to find relief with alternating the two. It comes down to personal preference and what eases your pain not just in the moment, but in the hours afterward as well. 

6. Don’t let arthritis define you. No matter what you want to do that’s causing you pain, find a creative way to still join in. Try large cushions and alternating half kneeling for gardening or kneeling with a thick cushion between your calves and bottom to play with grandkids on the floor. Talk to your physical therapist about how you can get back to doing the activities you love. 


What can physical therapy actually do?

The overall goal is to change the way you load your joints so you can get back to doing the things you love, pain-free. When it comes to loading joints, the direction of the force and how well the force is spread are the two main focuses of treatment. 

An analogy for the effect of force direction is to imagine pinching a spring (like the small ones found in pens). You could pinch the spring in a way that makes it buckle or in a way that makes the coils compress. When it comes to your joints, you don’t want any buckling, you want forces passing straight through to the next joint. Spreading forces across multiple joints decrease the stress each joint has to sustain individually, helping to reduce your pain.

At Body Gears, we achieve this by:

  • Eliminating any joint and soft tissue restrictions with manual therapy to restore the normal motions and resting positions your body should have.
  • Strengthening muscles that hold your joints in optimal positions. 
  • Making sure the right muscles fire at the right time during any activity you do so that your joints are being loaded in a way that promotes healing instead of injury.

If you or a loved one suffers from arthritis pain, contact us today to learn more about tailored treatment options. 

Written by: Dr. Julia Melanson, PT, DPT

Edited by: April Oury, PT, MSPT, IOC, CFMT, FAAOMPT, Founder

As always, consult with your Licensed Physical Therapist for individualized advice. For those in Illinois, visit your PT immediately without a prescription or referral.

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